A reader of Just Genesis recently asked this question:
"Is there a clear-cut chronology when the inhabitants of Canaan/Palestine stopped being called Israelites, when they stopped being called Hebrews and started to be called Jews?"
Rabbi Stephen F. Wise, former Chief Rabbi of the United States, answers this question in part. He wrote: "The return from Babylon and the introduction of the Babylonian Talmud mark the end of Hebrewism and the beginning of Judaism.”
It is not possible to put exact dates on when each of the terms - Hebrew, Israelite and Jew - was introduced. However, anthropological studies reveal that the oldest of these terms is Hebrew. The Hebrew were widely dispersed before Abraham's time (c.2100 B.C.).
The word Hebrew is the English equivalent of the Akkadian Abru, meaning priest. (Akkadian is the oldest known Semitic language.) Other variants include 'Apiru, Ha-biru and Ha-piru. The word refers to priests who served at the temples of the ancient Sun cities. The Sun temple was called O-piru, meaning "house of the Sun." The Habiru were already widely dispersed in the 14th-13th centuries B.C. Their dispersion was driven by a marriage and ascendancy pattern in which some sons were sent away to established their own territories.
The term "Israelite" appears on the Merneptah Stele, dated to c. 1219 B.C. This stele set up by Pharaoh Merneptah is the earliest extra-biblical record of a people called Israel. The stele was discovered by Flinders Petrie in 1896 at Thebes, and is now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
The "people of Israel" refers to the clan of Jacob (Yacob) and their story takes shape under Moses, the Horite Hebrew ruler. Moses and his family had the same marriage and ascendancy pattern as Abraham the Hebrew and other Horite Hebrew figures such as Lamech the Elder (Genesis 4) and Elkanah, the father of the prophet Samuel .
Abraham's people were Horite Hebrew, that is, devotees of God the Father and God the Son. The son was called HR in ancient Egyptian (Horus in Greek)), meaning "the Most High One". Horite and Sethite Hebrew priests were widely dispersed in the service of high kings, the "mighty men of old" mentioned in Genesis 6 and 10. They were separate ritual groups (moieties) who maintained shrines along the Nile River as early as 2000 years before Abraham.
The oldest site of Horite Hebrew worship is Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) on the Nile (4000-3000 B.C.). Votive instruments at Nekhen were ten times larger than the mace heads and bowls found elsewhere, suggesting that this was a very prestigious shrine.
Horite Hebrew priests built east-facing fire altars in the shape of a falcon. In Vedic tradition these are called uttaravedi. The falcon was the totem of Horus. These altars were erected in Pakistan and India from before 2000 B.C. The Shulba Sutras state that "he who desires heaven is to construct a fire-altar in the form of a falcon." Such altars have been discovered at the Harappan shrine cities of Kalibangan and Lothal. The Dravidian word Har-appa means "Hor is father."
The ethnonym "Israelite" comes after the time of Abraham's grandson Jacob/Yacob, and probably dates to a time no earlier than Joseph and his association with the Horite shrine at Heliopolis (biblical On).
Yacob came to be identified as Yisra'el. The word Yisra'el appears to be etymologically related to the word yashur, meaning “will look to,” and El, a very old reference to God. The dating must be between 1850 and 1200 B.C, as suggested by the Phoenician or early Semitic Y which represents the ruler of a territory or the head of a clan.
The rulers controlled the water ways and wells within their territories. The Y symbolized the crook/hook of the ruler, the tent peg of the ruler's dwelling, and the boat hook. In his book Egypt and the Mountains of the Moon, Frederick Wicker refers to the Y as a boat hook, as used in East Africa and Egypt, and notes that it is a symbol of royalty. Clearly, this letter represents a cluster of related ideas including:
the ruler himself
the ruler's authority
the ruler's territory
the ruler's clan or tribe
the ruler's resources, such as his flocks and water sources
the strangers/travelers who came under the ruler's protection
Travelers and caravans moved from settlement to settlement, or from water source to water source. That is to say that they went from Y to Y. Ancient water laws were generous to those who wa-ndered. Wells were neutral ground, but were fought over, as in the story of Moses driving away the intruders at the well of the ruler-priest (Exodus 2:16-19) It was common for the river, oasis, or well to have a shrine at which a priest presided. Moses' father-in-law was "priest of Midian."
The great chiefs of the early Hebrew were designated by the initial Y, a solar symbol indicating divine overshadowing or divine appointment. This is evident in the Hebrew forms. Consider the following:
Yared (meaning to descend)
Yishmael - Ishmael (Abraham's son by Hagar)
Yitzak - Issac (Abraham's son by Sarah)
Yaqtan - Joktan (Abraham's firstborn son by Keturah)
Yishbak - Yishbak (another son by Keturah; the name means sent-away)
Yacob - Jacob (who is later called Israel)
Yisra'el - Israel
Yeshua - Joshua/Jesus
With the renaming of Jacob, the scope of the biblical narrative is narrowed to his descendants. The other Hebrew clans are not mentioned. There is no mention of the offspring of Abraham's daughters who would have married their Hebrew half-brothers and patrilineal cousins, thus extending the narrative beyond Jacob's twelve clans.
The term Jew refers to the people who were taken as captives from Judah to Babylon. This is the beginning of Judaism. Rabbis admit that Judaism is not the faith of Abraham the Hebrew. Rabbi Stephen F. Wise, former Chief Rabbi of the United States, wrote: "The return from Babylon and the introduction of the Babylonian Talmud mark the end of Hebrewism and the beginning of Judaism.”
The term is applied only to people from Judah/Judea after 580-530 B.C, long after the time of Abraham and Jacob who lived during the time of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2160-1788 B.C.)